Yorvit? Dude, I Totally Thought You'd Left Already
by Mark T.R. Donohue
For once we were too far in front of a story instead of lagging way behind: Yorvit Torrealba's deal with the Mets disappeared mysteriously yesterday. Like Torrealba's reported departure, this is neither a good thing nor a bad thing for Colorado in isolation. Were they to ink Torrealba to a deal more realistically reflecting his value than the numbers the Mets were reportedly willing to offer, say, 2 years, $7 million as opposed to three and fifteen, it would be a nice get. A Torrealba re-up sounds more appealing to me than decline-phase retreads Jason Kendall and Paul ("Mr. First Half") LoDuca and way better than dropping confirmed jerk Michael Barrett into the middle of the Rockies' hand-holding, psalm-reciting clubhouse. Anything more than a modest two-year deal for any of those guys, Torrealba included, would be foolish. And I would rather Dan O'Dowd used what little money he has to spend on free agents on a centerfielder (Mike Cameron?) than on a catcher; Chris Iannetta wouldn't kill the Rockies as an everyday backstop next season, another year of Willy Taveras, if it doesn't kill the team, would certainly kill me.
Meanwhile, everything I am hearing suggests that Kazuo Matsui will end up with the Cubs, which just seems right somehow -- that organization has been staffed by flat-earthers as far as it comes to park effects for as long as I can remember. Because I'm a celebrity blogger, people are always coming up to me in bars and at parties and sharing their pet Rockies theories with me. The #1 argument I get is that I'm wrong about Taveras, to which I direct you to the lineup cards for World Series Games 3 and 4. A solid #2, though, is the speech about how Getting Out of New York Did Wonders for Kaz Matsui. I got this so much I started to believe it for a little while, until a piece by my friend Keith Law inspired me to in fact look at the statistical record more closely. OK, kids, we're only going to have to do this one more time, because Matsui is going to be out of Denver in short order: Kazuo Matsui's "renaissance" breaks down to 3% getting more comfortable with playing second base after years as a shortstop, 1% getting out of the glare of the New York media, and 96% getting to play half of his games in Coors Field.
I'm not saying he's not a good player. I'm not saying I wouldn't want the Rockies to bring him back, at the right price. I'm just saying that while the clear air probably did wonders for Kazuo's spiritual well-being, it did lots more wonders for his line drives falling in for singles and doubles. Take Kazuo (by the way, Rockies fans, you should stop calling him "Kaz," because he personally doesn't care for the nickname) away from Coors Field's vast outfield and make him hit at Wrigley Field, with an outfield so small the grass under where Sammy Sosa used to stand would turn brown because Sosa NEVER FREAKING MOVED, and you'll get some ugly numbers. Maybe something like .249/.304/.333, which by a remarkable coincidence is Matsui's exact line on the road in 2007. Also zero homers.
As far as trades go, this is far-fetched, but I keep hearing a) the Giants are beyond desperate for a third baseman and b) they're in dire enough straits that they'd consider moving Tim Lincecum. I think that's insane, considering that young, arbitration-controlled starting pitching is the single rarest commodity in the game, but if you're just joining us now in progress, at least two of the teams in the NL West are run by complete unrepentant Luddite lunkheads. And one is the Giants, and one of the others employs the guy who used to be San Francisco's second-in-command. For sure they're dumb enough to trade Lincecum for somebody like Garrett Atkins -- or, my goodness, Clint Barmes and some pitching prospects, of which the Rockies suddenly have more than enough -- and trade him within the division. This is a situation that bears monitoring.
Also likely past the point of selling high on, but eminently marketable nonetheless, is Brian Fuentes. Fuentes went in the blink of an eye -- or, more literally, went within the confines of a single road trip -- from being the Rockies' only reliable reliever to being perhaps the least trustworthy of the guys who were used to working in the seventh and eighth innings. I can tell you what happened (he lost command of his killer changeup, his great equalizer against righthanders; he continued to own lefties to the degree that images of his serpentine pitching motion likely haunt Chase Utley's dreams) but I can't tell you whether Brian will return to his 2005-06 form next season. That said, one of the things dumb general managers regularly overpay for is the Proven Closer mantle, and Fuentes' is still fresh enough to count for something, even if Manny Corpas pipped him but good at midseason '07. Perhaps the closer market isn't going to overheat this winter -- the Astros sure didn't get much of anything good for Brad Lidge, and nobody is talking about Francisco Cordero except for Brewers fans eagerly anticipating getting him back on the cheap. That's surprising given that the only other real legit free-agent closer, Mariano Rivera, was only ever on the open market in a theoretical sense.
If you're looking for a really old pitcher, a centerfielder with at least one huge glaring weakness, an injury-prone third baseman, or one of those catchers that will just freaking kill you if you draft them any time before the last round in fantasy, this is your kinda Hot Stove league. Otherwise, not so much. For a team with a ton of needs and no farm system, or a team like the Cubs or Dodgers that dysfunctionally refuses to realize that its needs are totally met by its farm system if only they'd play the poor bastards, this is a bad scene. For a team with a lot of depth on the 40-man roster and a 90-win season fresh in the memory, it's one bursting with opportunity. I wrote earlier that if the Rockies did nothing but watch spare parts from last year's team leave as free agents, they'd be okay. That's true. But they could be a lot better off if Dan O'Dowd took a couple of measured risks and leveraged the Rockies' long suits (left-side infielders, decent platoon-type corner bats, potential-laden young starters) into satisfactory middle-term answers for their lingering questions (catcher, center field, second base, veteran late-inning relievers without sizable records of colossal, terrifying past failures).
O'Dowd doesn't have to make a huge reach at all of those positions to put the Rockies on solid footing for 2008. I can live with either Iannetta at catcher or Stewart at second, but two experiments up the middle on a pennant-defending ballclub makes me nervous. A third argument with which I get buttonholed in bars is the "strength up the middle thing," which I get, but I think people hugely misapplied to the Rockies last season. The Rockies had the year they did because their starters overachieved with a huge assist from a world-class defense, their bullpen was massive, and the heart of their lineup from Holliday through Hawpe were reliable run-producers. As far as strength up the middle goes... well, Troy Tulowitzki is the balls, we all agree, but I think Rockies fans have gotten way too romantic about Torrealba, Matsui, and of course Willy T. Those three guys were really the least valuable everyday players Colorado had -- and look here, Todd Helton, Matt Holliday, Brad Hawpe, Garrett Atkins, and Tulowitzki are all safely under Colorado control for next year and (barring an unconscionable cost-cutting Holliday trade if his final-year arbitration price tag goes through the roof, which it will, but I am naive enough to believe that the Monforts will accept it as a necessary expense) the year after that.
People are going to think I'm crazy, or at least hypocritical, for suggesting this, but at the right price in trade I think Coco Crisp would be a good guy for O'Dowd to target. It's true that Crisp had a lower OPS than Willy Taveras last year (although I would argue that Taveras's OPS requires a downward mental adjustment since bunt singles have less run creation power than quote-unquote "real" singles) but he's a wizard defensively, seemingly doesn't suffer the frequent bouts of paralytic brain-lock Taveras is subject to afield, and he has once-in-a-while pop as opposed to no pop, period. Just throwing it out there.